Roemer is Right
Former Gov. Buddy Roemer reared his head earlier week with a guest column in The (Baton Rouge) Advocate that was vintage Buddy, which means the piece was forward-thinking while lamenting Louisiana’s failure to keep pace with our southern neighbors.
In other words, Roemer’s mindset hasn’t changed much since his one term as governor came to an end in January 1992.
Roemer has been on a crusade for well over 25 years to create a Louisiana that, in some respects, would mirror North Carolina, Florida and Texas — three states whose residents are healthier and better educated and whose economies have experienced far greater growth than what we’ve accomplished on the home front. You may recall that Roemer, as governor, was a big proponent of reshaping higher education in Louisiana to reflect the model in the Tar Heel state. His tax reform package, which the voters rejected in the spring of 1989, pulled together ideas from what worked elsewhere in the South but represented a stark contrast to how we’ve done business in Louisiana since Huey Long ran the state with an iron fist.
Roemer hasn’t given up on tax reform, evidenced by his remarks in The Advocate. He maintains Louisiana must embrace a wholesale redo of its tax policy, which gets no argument from yours truly.
Needless to say, Roemer is right. Until Louisiana sheds its regressive ways, the state will continue to lag behind the rest of the country in the number of people living in poverty, education and economic growth. Without a doubt, education is the key. A tax policy that provides enough money for the state to pay for basic services while creating an environment that’s conducive for businesses to grow and prosper and employ Louisianians is just as important as teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.
As he was years ago, Roemer obviously is still a visionary. The problem with visionaries is they often have a difficult time convincing the masses that their thoughts and considerations are the right way. Or worth considering in the least. Often, a visionary’s ideas are painted as radical or too extreme or, God forbid, would disrupt the status quo.
The latter, for the lack of a better description, could be interpreted as interrupting someone’s scam to line his or her pockets at the expense of the taxpayers. Sound familiar?
Not much has changed in Louisiana since Roemer left office. The state’s economy is still on a roller coaster. Our tax policy is behind the times. Our public schools are among the worst in the country. We’ve got too many colleges and universities and too many governing boards governing them. Our roads and bridges are falling apart.
We tried tax reform, beginning under Gov. Mike Foster, but once the people recognized their state income taxes had risen modestly, a revolt ensued and the Legislature acquiesced. The revenues are gone. Budget deficits are strangling us.
It goes without saying that there aren’t too many visionaries in the Legislature these days. If there are, they haven’t said much and they certainly aren’t making waves.
Expanding…Perhaps that’s a byproduct of term limits.
Our new governor, John Bel Edwards, is a likable man, but he doesn’t strike me as someone who’s willing to risk his career over forcing Louisiana to break from a cycle of sales taxes and budget deficits and robbing Peter to pay Paul. If Edwards was serious about making his mark, he would drag the Legislature into another special session after the regular session to deal with tax reform.
Maybe the pessimists are right. Maybe the people are content with stagnant incomes and ignorance. I don’t believe that to be true.
But I also believe Louisiana will never evolve into a state as robust as Texas or North Carolina until the people demand it. If the people wait on a governor or a Legislature to make it happen, it never will. Roemer recognized it and reminded us of it again this week.
Sam Hanna is a state political writer.